Nero Revived? Another Look

By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.

It is not hard to find a commentary on Revelation, liberal or conservative, that mentions the so called Nero Redivivus myth.  This idea, briefly, is that Nero Caesar would be raised from the dead, or would come alive again in the future.  Following a paper by Sigve Tonstad of Loma Linda University, this idea and how it has played in the history of interpreting John’s Revelation  is, however, coming under attack (see Tonstad, “Appraising the Myth of Nero Redivivus in the Interpretation of Revelation” – Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 175-199).  Citing Gerhard Maier’s, Die Johannesoffenbarung und die Kirche, WUNT 25 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr,1981), Tonstad offers several other sources for rejecting this view including, Paul S. Minear, I Saw Heaven Opened (1969).  In my own readings, Alan James Beagley’s The Sitz-im-Leben of the Apocalypse with Particular Reference to the Role of the Churches Enemies (Walter De Gruyter, Berlin, 1987) equally takes aim.  Several others could be quoted (Robert Mounce, G.K. Beale, J.P.M. Sweet, and others).  Mounce’s view is most attractive at this point and although he does not elucidate on the matter in terms of the Greek text, it is brought out, as I will show, that there is no resurrection of the beast or its head mentioned.

The texts in question all come from Revelation 13, and there we find, “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads.”  Now, “beast” in Greek is Neuter (that is, its grammatical designation is Neuter in form).  “Head” is Feminine in form.  “And the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority” – where “dragon” is Masculine in form.  It is the Beast that has ten horns and seven heads.

Now, in Greek the “forms” of a noun must agree with its pronouns.  That is, if “beast” is Neuter, then any pronoun standing for it (or modifying it) would also be Neuter in form.  This is an iron-clad, standard Greek grammatical fact.  “One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.”  “One” and “heads” are both Feminine (“one” is an adjective of “head” and thus they agree).  But, “its” is Neuter.  It is in agreement with the “beast”.  One of the Beasts heads was as slain (having been slain).  The Beast is not slain, only one of its heads is.  “Its” mortal wound was healed.  Again, the Beast is healed, not the head.  The Beast has seven heads (not including its own head), and when one is slain, another one takes its place.  It is the Beast itself that remains alive.  The Beast itself does not die.  Only one of its many heads does, and this head is not said to recover.  It is the Beast itself that recovers, unphased by the slain head.

“And he maketh the earth and them dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed.”  Here we are told again that the Beast is worshipped, who (Neuter) had been healed – not the head.  There is no resurrection of the Beast, and there certainly is no idea here of one of its heads being revised to live again.  “That they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.”  The Beast (Neuter) receives a stroke and one its heads dies as a result, but the Beast itself remains alive.  The word here denotes the contrast of the fact that the Beast itself did not die – “it lives” – and the verb here simply means that, not “lives (again)”, but simply “and it lives.”  The subject of the verb is the Neuter (Beast) not the Feminine (“head”)!  It is the Beast itself that remains alive in spite of the fact that one of its heads was slain.  That’s all that is being said here.

Mounce, then, is entirely correct on this point.  From a purely grammatical analysis, the Beast is not killed.  One of its heads is killed.  But, since it has seven heads, another one crops up and takes its place.  The Beast, therefore, remains alive and recovers from the death of its heads.  Indeed, we find the same idea in Revelation 17.10 that the “seven heads are seven kings. Five are fallen, one is, and the other is not yet come: and when he is come, he must remain a short time.”  Well, if five have “fallen” (they are dead), and one “is” (alive), yet in spite of the fact that five have passed on, the Beast Itself remains alive.  There is no resurrection here.  There is no Antichrist Raised from the Dead, and equally the Nero Redivivus Myth is entirely shot down.

Although I have not offered any “interpretation” of what or who the Beast is, or who the heads are, it matters not.  This consideration – that “one of the heads” of the Beast is raised from the dead, or that the Beast itself is slain and rises again – must be factored into any interpretation one suggests.